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3.1 out of 5 stars
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on 25 February 2012
This is a great story and Huntford manages to work up the excitement of a unique explorers' race. Amundsen is depicted as a ruthless realist only after the glory of being first. His know-how, leadership and meticulous preparation bring victory. Scott is portrayed as a hopless amateur, poor leader and as responsible for needlessly killing himself and his men. Huntford litters his story with diary extracts and seemingly achieves authenticity. The truth wins out!
Alas, just as Huntford criticises Scott for selective diary re-touches, this is exactly what Huntford himself is guilty of. Left thoroughly convinced of the integrity of this book I went on to read the diaries of three men who were actually there: Scott himself, Evans the second in command and Ponting the photographer. Whilst it is true that following the death of Scott one would expect the two latter would tone down criticism of their former leader, these three original sources completely discount many of Huntfod's claims and clearly demonstrate that Huntford has rather cleverly selected material, omitted facts and misinterpreted events in order to make his theories fit reality. This book is a very good read but an accurate picture of Scott's final expedition it is not. R.Fiennes' 'Captain Scott' also methodically rips to shreds Huntford's spurious claims with concrete facts and written evidence from all concerned with the expedition and is throughly recommended for a much more balanced assesment of Scott.
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on 6 January 2013
I have been meaning to read 'Scott and Amundsen' (The Last Place on Earth) for some time, and have finally got round to it. And I have to say, that despite all its innaccuracies, omissions and one-sided appraisal, I enjoyed it as a book. I found it well written and researched.

It is however written by a journalist and its writing style is more reminiscent of a popular newspaper, than even-handed research. However it should be remembered that it was first published in 1979. At that time, Robert Falcon Scott's achievement in reaching the South Pole in 1912 was still being viewed relatively uncritically. And Amundsen's achievement was relatively unheralded. Huntford was the first to seriously challenge the received wisdom of the Scott/Amundsen expeditions to the Pole. He clearly started with a view that Scott was an inept bungler and by contrast Amundsen was a supremely competent polar explorer, and he set about to put the record straight, as he saw it. In doing so, he went to great lengths to castigate Scott's planning, his methods and his character by means of selective assertions, at every opportunity. So much so, that I as a reader became irritated at the constant repetition. I was less concerned about his views on Amundsen, who I would agree was a great man whose multiple achievements have not always received the acclaim they richly deserve. But even there, Huntford deploys the journalistic style of conveniently omitting any evidence which runs counter to his central assertion. And he virtually invents some of Scott's motivations. And though Huntford certainly went to great lengths to research his material, I was somewhat disappointed that he omitted specific references to his sources.

Having read a large number of accounts by those who accompanied Scott - Cherry-Garrard, Evans, Wilson, Debenham, Simpson etc. I am forced to conclude that Huntford's view of Scott's character is extremely skewed. Despite his faults, Scott was clearly a much admired leader by many of his team. But Huntford does do us a service by raising key questions about Scott's methods. I have read Susan Solomon's appraisal of the relative climatic conditions in 1911/12 (The Coldest March), where she challenges Huntford's assertion that Scott did not encounter unpredictable cold conditions. I found her argument convincing. I have also read Sir Ranulph Fiennes defence of Scott (Captain Scott). And I too found a number of his points very convincing. But without wishing to take away from Scott a jot of what he achieved, especially in the new science which he championed, there remain some fundamental issues about his methods - especially his means of travel and his planning, and I am grateful to Huntford for at least initiating a debate.

In conclusion, I enjoyed the book. But it should be read in context. It makes some very valid points. But it also maligns a man, who clearly achieved more than any of us will ever achieve.
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on 12 January 2011
The other reviews some this book up well. When I bought it, I was well aware that it would be an anti-Scott account of his life. I was taken aback by how one-sided and vitriolic it was. Barely a paragraph goes past without Huntford giving Scott a kicking in some way, construing the tiniest detail to be another example of a character-failing on the part of Scott. It can get a little tiring after a while. What's more, I feel sometimes Huntford fails to give enough evidence at times - talking about Scott being passed over for promotion when all of his colleagues were progressing - but he failed to give examples and names of these colleagues.

All of that said, I couldn't put it down. The 'attitude' of the author is rather amusing, since it's written which such spite that one can only assume that Scott's family in some way cheated Huntford out of an inheritance or systematically bullied an ancestor in some way. It's like watching one half of a blazing row.

The other thing to point out is that other biographies - and hagiographies - are available. If this were the only book on Scott, it would be a tragedy, but it isn't. In the canon of work on the man, it's useful to have someone build a strong case against. I plan to read another biography of Scott for balance, but I'm glad Huntford went out of his way to compile this vicious account.
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on 19 April 2015
I must say at the start that I found this book very entertaining and a real page turner. I already have read some works about the exploration of the South Pole, but this book was by far the most readable, I found myself picking it up at every opportunity.
The way that Huntford writes is very compelling, and I shall certainly be reading his book about Shackleton.
However, this praise comes with a but, and it is a big but.
I am not aware if Huntford has a grudge against Scott and his family, but this must be the least objective book I have ever read. Amundsen is praised from the off, and hardly comes in for any criticism at all, even though his methods of man management at times left a lot to be desired. As did his deception of his men, his creditors and his friend and mentor Nansen.
There is never a word of praise or respect for Scott or any of his team. Huntford attaches psychological analysis that he cannot possibly support, to many of Scott’s men. His character assassination of Dr Edward Wilson is particularly harsh. At Wilson’s death he writes ‘he was a born loser, that he understood’. This is terribly unfair, considering the great respect and affection that ‘Uncle Bill’ was held in by most of Scott’s party, and his achievement in reaching the Pole, even though Amundsen was first.
Huntford seems to have the American obsession with winners and losers. After the suicide of Johansen, years after the Norwegians return home, who Amundsen shunned after an argument on the expedition, Huntford says that Johansen paid the loser’s penalty .
Ultimately I would agree that the Norwegians prepared better, were better organised, more thorough, and left nothing to chance, and deserved their victory.
But I also feel that the men of Scott’s party deserve praise for their determination, and ultimately although they died on their return, Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Oates and Evans deserve huge respect for their own achievement.
I am now reading Sir Ranulph Fiennes biography of Scott, which I suspect will have a more objective view by a man who has been there and done it, unlike Mr Huntford.
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on 11 January 2010
It feels a bit odd to give a two-star review to a book that is in many respects well written and for the most part an enjoyable read. The trouble here is Huntford's obvious dislike for Scott which, as the pages go by seems to grow and expand to near hysterical proportions. Certainly Scott was a flawed character - aren't we all? - but he was also very much a product of his times, generally well regarded and respected by his men (Shackleton a notable exception) and deserves a better and more balanced biography (and biographer) than what is served up here.

I have travelled to Antarctica many times myself, been to the South Pole and am deeply interested in the story and the continent itself. Huntford is clearly a very good writer - his biography of Shackleton (written some years after this book, when he had matured more as a writer and person) is wonderful. This one too is entertaining, until his personal biases and antipathy to Scott become too annoying. It is one thing to write an iconoclastic biography, fair enough, but honestly this descends almost to parody, and by the end his non-stop harping about Scott's every single action or thought ultimately leads you to question and begin to doubt much of what was probably some pretty good research. He needed a strong editor who knew something about the topic, to rein him in. An excellent and thoughtful counterpoint to this harangue is Susan Solomon's book The Coldest March. Written by a scientist with much experience in Antarctica and the South Pole (places Huntford had never been when he wrote this book) and backed by decades of hard climate data she reveals that Scott was not quite the nincompoop Huntford would have us believe, and that his (and his men's) Byronic death was due at least as much to an unusually severe conditions as his arch-Victorian hubris.

An entertaining read, but there are better around.
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on 22 March 2004
The truth is that, like the earlier hagiographies it rightly debunks, the arguments have moved on and rather left this book behind. (The first edition is now more than 20 years old) Is there really a Scott myth to challenge any more? It's a good read, and the research is extensive if one sided, but it is a book with a mission rather than a fair account of what happened. The world accoprding to Huntford is as black and white as a John Wayne Western, but not everything Scott did was foolish, and not everything Amundsen did was fantastic. Although Huntford himself has been debunked, ultimately its the gloating tone used to put down Scott's smallest act that weighs heaviest against the book's credibility. Whatever else, can he have some credit for being a brave man? Apparently not. Is there anyone so awful they have no redeeming features? Huntford thinks he has found one.
Read it if you must, but be sure to read some of the books that put the other side (Susan Solomon's "The Coldest March" or Ranaulf Fiennes "Scott" being two recent examples. I was all set to dislike the Fiennes book in particular but its actually very sensible argued.)
Ultimately Huntford set out to make his reputation with this book and probably felt he had to take an extreme stance to do so. Its up to the reader what they feel about that.
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on 28 August 2014
I have never read a book so one sided (to the extent of obsession). This book finds fault in even the most minor task undertaken by Scott and, in my opinion, loses all credibility. There are much better biographies and would recommend Susan Solomon's The Coldest March and (for a been there done it biography) Ranulph Fiennes' Captain Scott if you want a more educated, knowledgable and factual read.
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on 13 February 2004
Huntford is the armchair critic who knows not of what he speaks. It’s easy to belittle one’s achievements, especially those long dead who cannot defend themselves. Huntford’s book is a shameful example of sensational publication of what is not the truth but of what people like to read. It’s full of errors of which huntford puts across as facts. One is fooled into believing that huntford had performed some masterful research into the scott’s exploration, but that research stretches only as far as he is willing to take you, on the path to show what a bubbling fool scott was. A gripping read, yes. The truth, most certainly not.
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on 30 June 2011
Roland Huntsfords awful book on Scott, which is sensationalist and has a complete lack of perspective.
This book has no merit is biased and can be summarised as poor or incredibly one sided in its research, in its views of Scott with the authors opinions and assumptions being touted as fact throughout. Any one interested in the subject should read it however to understand where a large number of the fallacies about the expedition originate, in the mind to the author of this book sensationalised to sell more, and not in fact.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, the efforts of all the early antarctic explorers should be celebrated for what they were, not foolhardy but courageous people trying to push the boundaries of human experience. As with anything that is pushing the boundaries there are unknowns (such as weather, such as the as yet undiscovered importance of vitamins and calorific intake etc) for which Scott and his companions paid a high price. They did not fail spectacularly the were very close to succeeding in both getting to the pole first, and in returning safely.
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on 30 November 2005
Read Ranulph Fiennes "Captain Scott" for a biography written by someone who knows what a blizzard at -40deg Celsius is really like. As an expedition leader himself Fiennes would have seen straight away if Scott had been a bungler and a fool. Instead Fiennes has a huge amount of respect for Scott.
Fiennes has little respect for Huntford though. Fiennes says that Huntford says the weather in March 1912 was "not exceptional for the time of year", though in fact the conditions were repeated only once in the next thirty years (see The Coldest March by Susan Solomon). Fiennes says Huntford used Scott Polar Research Institute notepaper to write to the descendants of the Scott expedition when asking for information, which he was not entitled to use. He says Huntford was forced to pay costs and apologise after a court case brought by Sir Peter Scott regarding statements made about his mother. The 15 kilos of rocks collected by Scott, described as a "pathetic little gesture" by Huntford were, according Fiennes, "the key to the origin of Antarctica".
Fiennes quotes Wayland Young, son of Scott's wife Kathleen by her second husband, who wrote
"I object to Roland Huntford's book as a son, because he maligns my mother and her first husband, as an owner of archives because I gave him access to them and he misused them, and as an (occasional) historian because he has dishonoured that essential calling..."
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